Special Report

Special Report

Mumbai's new genre international schools

Launched with massive budgets ranging from Rs.10-50 crore, the commercial capital’s latter-day five-star schools which offer fully wired campuses, expat headmasters and affiliation with offshore examination boards, are beginning to eclipse the city’s vintage secondaries. Indra Gidwani reports from Mumbai

Although globally famous as resurgent India’s commercial capital, synonymous with Bollywood, the stock exchange, premier corporates and fashion houses, perhaps because of prohibitive real estate prices, the island city of Mumbai (pop. 13 million) is less than renowned for quality education institutions, particularly its schools. The city’s handful of vintage high profile schools such as Cathedral & John Connon (estb.1860), St. Mary’s (estb.1540), Campion (estb.1943) etc have reigned as Mumbai’s most difficult-to-access secondaries for half a century. Now somewhat belatedly, the city of gold’s school education scenario is about to experience a radical makeover.

During the past four years India’s commercial and entertainment capital has witnessed the promotion of over 35 new genre ‘international’ schools. Launched with massive budgets ranging from Rs.10-50 crore, Mumbai’s latter-day five-star schools which offer fully-wired campuses bristling with hi-tech equipment and teaching aids, expat headmasters and affiliation with highly reputed offshore examination boards, are beginning to eclipse the city’s vintage secondaries as the first choice of the new upwardly mobile middle class.

The city’s first new genre international school — the Dhirubhai Ambani International School, promoted by Nita Ambani (wife of Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries (annual sales revenue: Rs.110,886 crore)) — admitted its first batch of students in 2003. Since then on average in this city of fast-track private enterprise, ten new genre international schools have been promoted every year, dizzy real estate prices and land scarcity notwithstanding.

Indeed, somewhat belatedly some of Mumbai’s most well-known business families — the Goenkas, Podars, Somanis, and Ajmeras — as well as other private entrepreneurs have hopped aboard the school education bandwagon. Among them: the Podar World School (estb.2004) and B.D Somani International School (estb.2006). Next year, two high profile international schools — the Aditya Birla Group promoted New Era School (Cambridge) in South Bombay and Oberoi International School in Goregaon — are scheduled to admit their first batches, and in 2009, industrialist and page 3 celebrity Yash Birla intends to open the doors of the Sunanda Birla International School on South Bombay’s plush Napean Sea Road. According to the state government’s directorate of education in Mumbai, over 90 proposals for inaugurating new schools have been submitted in the past two years (2005-2007) and are pending clearance.

Although the great majority of educationists of the socialist mindset may disapprove of this boom in capital-intensive, 21st century schools boasting excellent infrastructure, ideal teacher-pupil ratios and foreign examination board affiliations, the demand for globally benchmarked quality school education within fast-track Mumbai’s new aspirational middle-class is generating considerable excitement in India’s commercial capital. The city’s rapidly multiplying HNIs (high net worth individuals) are only too aware of the value of high quality English medium education and are ready, willing and able to pay tuition fees ranging between Rs.1-8 lakh per year.

"Though Mumbai is a late starter, it has caught up with Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Gurgaon in terms of the number of international schools being promoted. The city’s exorbitant real estate prices and land scarcity were initial hurdles. But these challenges have been overcome by private entrepreneurs anxious to build world-class schools to attract much needed professionals into the city. And given that Mumbai is India’s most wealthy city, and professional pay scales are sky high, steep tuition fees are not a deterrent. In fact parental demand for high-end schools is outpacing supply. In a rapidly globalising economy, there’s widespread awareness that investing in high quality foundational education opens gateways to the best universities abroad and subsequently to the best jobs globally. Hence the mad scramble to promote international schools," says Capt. Raj Mohindra, the Mumbai-based director of Raj Mohindra Education Consultants and Institutional Planners, which masterminded the establishment of Mahindra United World College, Pune (estb.1997), India’s first Plus Two school offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, and several other elite schools countrywide.

The defining characteristic of Mumbai’s new high-end schools is that they offer the curriculums of the best international exam boards such as the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), Geneva and the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), UK. With the country’s premier school affiliation and examination boards — CBSE and CISCE — perceived to persist with rote learning and exam obsession, international school curriculums which focus on developing critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and self-learning skills of students, are emerging as the preferred alternative of high income parents in post-liberalisation India.

"The IB diploma programme with its three key elements of intellectual challenge, learning for a purpose and intercultural understanding, offers a balanced, holistic curriculum. Indian parents are becoming increasingly aware of the vital difference an international education can make to their children’s lives and willing to pay for it," says Don Gardner, former principal of an international school in Antwerp with over 29 years of teaching experience in schools in Australia and Belgium, who is currently principal of the B.D. Somani International School, the first higher secondary in south Bombay to offer the IB diploma programme (classes XI-XII). Promoted in 2006, BDSIS is an exclusively Plus Two school and offers its 120 students air-conditioned classrooms, IBO approved science laboratories, career counselling and foreign university guidance programmes.

But while Mumbai’s showpiece new genre schools emphasise their international focus, they also take pains to ensure that their curriculums are not completely divorced from India’s cultural heritage, values and traditions. By successfully fusing the creativity and technology of the West with Indian ethos and values, the city’s self-styled international schools have earned considerable societal goodwill. Comments Vandana Lulla, principal of Podar World School (PWS) which has an aggregate enrollment of 1,000 students and was recently ranked 22 in the pioneer Education World-IMRB survey of India’s Most Respected Schools (see EW August): "At Podar World School we are committed to offering the three I’s — international curriculum, international certifications and Indian ethos. We are an Indian international school and hence being Indian in our outlook and philosophy is very important to us. PWS offers students a choice between the IB diploma and CIE’s ‘A’ level exams, a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:15 and a plethora of co-curricular activities. Our holistic curriculum has been specially designed by our teachers, is application-based and encourages experimental learning."

While PWS and the B.D. Somani International offer only the Plus Two IB diploma, the Ecole Mondiale World School offers the full menu of IBO programmes — the primary and middle years programmes culminating in the IB diploma awarded at the higher secondary level. Promoted in 2003 by businessmen Pradeep Sadia and V.D. Goenka on a two-acre site in the upscale suburb of Juhu with an estimated investment of Rs.100 crore, the school admitted its first batch of 130 students (kindergarten-class XI) in July 2004. Currently the school’s fully air-conditioned, purpose-built campus offers well-equipped science labs, three state-of-the-art computer labs, two libraries, indoor sports facilities, a multipurpose auditorium, an indoor gym and a 25-metre indoor swimming pool apart from numerous studios and 40 classrooms to its 625 students whose doting parents pay out Rs.4.5-8 lakh as annual tuition fees.

"Ecole Mondiale is a ‘total IB world school’ — one of few in the country to offer IBO’s entire K-XII curriculum. At Ecole, children as young as three are introduced to an enquiry based approach to learning and encouraged to develop self-learning skills. IBO Geneva has developed its Learner Profile, a curriculum which guarantees a set of learning outcomes. The programme is designed to empower students to take responsibility for their own learning. With its international curriculum, well-qualified staff and joyful learning environment, Ecole Mondiale helps students develop their innate self-learning skills and transform into global citizens," says Ellen Stern, principal of the school.

With tuition fees ranging between Rs.4.5-8 lakh per year, Ecole Mondiale is perhaps Mumbai’s most expensive school. Podar World School and B.D. Somani International which also offer the IB diploma programme charge approximately Rs.4 lakh per year. But Mumbai’s growing number of high net worth individuals and upwardly mobile middle class parents who are the main target of new genre international schools, aren’t complaining. Even though the city’s blue-chip private schools affiliated with CISCE and CBSE (eg. Cathedral & John Connon and Bombay Scottish) charge annual tuition fees ranging between Rs.18,000-35,000.

Kavita Suri, whose daughter Anoushka enrolled in the Plus Two (IB diploma) section of the Dhirubhai Ambani International School (DAIS) this year after completing her class X at the CISCE-affiliated J.B. Petit School, has no regrets about paying Rs.4 lakh per year (cf. J.B. Petit’s Rs.16000) for an "international education". "My daughter is extremely happy in her school. The IB programme is an excellent blend of academics, extra-curricular activities and social service. Unlike the ICSE curriculum, the focus is on acquiring knowledge by understanding, not mugging up textbooks and there is so much flexibility to choose subjects and activities. Moreover the faculty at DAIS is brilliant, and I’ve noticed a marked difference in Anoushka. I know the Rs.4 lakh I’m paying is a good investment."

According to Capt. Raj Mohindra (quoted earlier), the Rs.4 lakh upward fees which Mumbai’s mint new international IB schools charge is justifiable given that land and construction prices in the city are high, and well-qualified teachers including some from abroad need to be hired. "Expat teachers need to be paid dollar-denominated salaries and provided housing. Moreover IBO, Geneva mandates comprehensive teacher training and re-orientation, which is very expensive (approx Rs.25,000 per teacher per year) and all IB schools must maintain a low teacher-pupil ratio of 1:20. All this drives up tuition fees," explains Mohindra.

But fortunately for Mumbai’s aspirational middle class which doesn’t need much persuasion about the value of quality education, the explosion in the number of new genre schools has ensured that high quality school education is available at all price points. For instance the Utpal Shanghvi and SGKM International schools which offer Cambridge International Examination’s IGCSE curriculum, levy affordable annual tuition fees of Rs.36,000 and Rs.27,000 respectively. Generally, international schools affiliated with CIE, a board well-reputed for offering globally recognised school certifications, charge comparatively lower fees and are a good alternative to pricey IB schools.

Comments Abha Dharam Pal, principal of Utpal Shanghvi School, which recently bagged the British Council India Award for the ‘Best International School in India’: "We provide internationally acceptable education but at an affordable price. We are able to keep our tuition fees low because we are not profit driven. Every penny we earn is judiciously spent and our school is run like a corporate without profit motive."

In 2005, Utpal Shanghvi which has been affiliated with the Maharashtra state secondary certificate (SSC) board since its promotion in 1982, started an international secondary school section (classes VIII-X) offering the IGCSE curriculum. The following year it introduced the Cambridge International primary programme (classes I-V) and the pre-primary (under-five) curriculum. From June 2008 the school, which is housed in a spacious four-storey building with a playground of 6,000 sq. metres in the suburb of Juhu, proposes to introduce CIE’s ‘A’ levels (classes XI-XII). Currently of the school’s 3,000 students, 1,250 have opted for the international curriculum.

"In the new global economy in which India is fast emerging as a power, international education will help our students gain a competitive edge. We were the best SSC school in Juhu but with the economy opening up, a global perspective was necessary and so we started an international section," says Dharam Pal, principal of Utpal Shanghvi for the past 22 years, who was conferred the Union government’s Best Teacher Award in 2001. Moreover under her stewardship, the school received ISO 9001:2000 certification in 2002 and the Central government’s Computer Literacy Excellence Award in 2003.

Similarly, another school in Mumbai which has successfully moved into the quality education league — from being a Marathi medium SSC board school —is SGKM International School, Ghatkopar. Driven by the objective of providing "international education at affordable cost", SGKM signed academic collaboration agreements with

the New Zealand-based Kiwi Bears International School; CIE, UK and Waterford Institute (USA). In 2004, the school inaugurated its pre-school section in collaboration with Kiwi Bears International School. Subsequently CIE’s primary curriculum was introduced for classes I-VI students.

"Our annual tuition fee at the primary level is Rs.27,000. We will soon offer CIE’s secondary school curriculum to our students at approximately Rs.1 lakh per year. We are setting a trend by providing quality international school education at low prices," says A.R. Joshi, trustee and secretary of the Maharashtra Samaj Ghatkopar Trust (estb. 1957) which promoted the SGKM International School in 2005, and has ambitious plans to open a chain of low-cost international schools across India’s commercial capital.

SGKM trustees and top brass are adamant that internationally benchmarked education comprising a student-centred, interactive curriculum; contemporary infrastructure; well-trained teachers and low teacher-pupil ratios is feasible at affordable prices. Spread over six floors the school offers spacious air-conditioned classrooms, well-equipped science and computer labs, an amphitheatre and a menu of extra-curricular activities including yoga, dance and drama and several indoor games. "Our teacher-pupil ratio is 1:15 and teachers receive continuous in-service training. We have proved that modest tuition fees can provide best quality school education. Therefore the huge parental demand for admission," says Vimla Nandakumar, former principal of Mahatma Gandhi International School, Ahmedabad with over 23 years teaching experience in schools in Mumbai, Vienna and Jakarta, who came aboard as principal of SGKM in 2005.

Likewise the Witty Kids School (estb.2002) in Malad offers its 1,300 students an international curriculum (CIE), a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:20, a well-stocked library and other contemporary academic facilities at an affordable tuition fee of Rs.40,000 per year. "Witty Kids is great value for money. We offer the best facilities in a green campus, highly-qualified teachers, a range of extra-curricular activities and provide each student individual attention. Moreover we have a unique ‘enrichment hour’ programme under which students are prepared for leadership and world citizenship," says Vinay Jain, promoter director of Witty Kids School. A well-known educationist and motivational speaker, Jain has conducted over 360 workshops for parents/teachers/students countrywide.

Choosing a suitable new genre school

With more than 35 five-star ‘international’ schools offering state-of-the-art infrastructure and the latest pedagogies having set up shop in Mumbai in the past few years, a growing number of parents aspire to enroll their children in them. For parents confused by the wide choice, some pointers:

• Compare the international curriculums — CIE’s IGSCE and IBO’s IB diploma — being offered and weigh their relative merits for your child

• The IB diploma is offered only at the Plus Two stage. Children can opt for the IB diploma after completing class X in an ICSE/CBSE/IGCSE school

• International schools are essentially businesses first and noble education institutions next. This makes parents customers with the right to demand accountability. The best time to ask questions is before enrolling your child

• Check out the credentials of promoters of the school, the school’s facilities and the veracity of its international board affiliation

• Demand complete info on the faculty and their qualifications. Inquire about their training and work experience. Remember there’s high staff attrition in international schools

• Talk with parents of enrolled children. Gather information about their experiences regarding the curriculum, faculty and facilities

• Compare the fees charged by different international schools. Annual tuition fees vary between Rs.1-8 lakh

• Choose a school which is transparent, approachable and treats parents with respect

• Check out the sports facilities in particular

he prime attraction of Mumbai’s new genre international schools such as Witty Kids, SGKM, Utpal Shanghvi, Podar World and B.D Somani is that they strike a balance between academic and extra-curricular education. Unlike older vintage CISCE, CBSE and state board affiliated schools which tend to be excessively academics and examination focused, Mumbai’s new avant garde schools offer a spate of extra-curricular activities. For instance, the highly-rated Ryan International School, Goregaon which offers CIE’s IGCSE and ‘A’ level curriculums provides its 1,364 students state-of-the-art facilities for dance, drama, nature conservation, excursions, and sports. One of the 107 Ryan Group schools established countrywide, Ryan International, Goregaon offers its pupils opportunities to participate in several international events such as the Presidential Classroom in Washington, Model United Nations conferences, Student Quality Control Circle, global cultural programmes and its International Children’s Theatre Festival. Unsurprisingly, in the EducationWorld-IMRB survey of ‘India’s most respected schools’ (EW August) Ryan International, Goregaon was ranked No.6 countrywide on the parameter of co-curricular education.

"In all our schools we strive to provide opportunities to students not just to excel academically but to develop latent talents in the creative arts, theatre and sports. Ideas are incubated, developed and nurtured in our institutions together with extra-curricular education including community service projects. Moreover there is great emphasis on inculcating values of love, respect and care for elders through several inter-generational bonding programmes. This holistic education is our distinguishing feature," says Francis Joseph, head organisational development, Ryan Group of Institutions.

Given Mumbai’s giddy real estate prices, even the most upscale and best — Ryan, Podar, Dhirubhai Ambani and Ecole Mondiale — can’t afford sprawling campuses which are a distinguishing feature of international schools in other parts of the country and abroad. While internationally benchmarked schools in cities such as Delhi and Bangalore boast resort-style campuses spread over 40-100 acres, Mumbai’s nexgen schools have to make do within areas of 50,000 sq.ft to four acres. Neither do they offer residential and/or extensive sports facilities such as cricket and hockey fields, horse riding, tennis courts, and athletic tracks, upon which high-end international schools pride themselves.

An exception to this norm is the Janaki International Residential School (JANIRS), located in the suburb of Thane. Sprawled across a vast (by Mumbai standards) 60 acres, JANIRS boasts landscaped gardens, contem-porary buildings, bio-parks, ponds, and five-star student accommodation. Sports facilities include cricket, hockey and football fields, tennis courts, horse riding, swimming pool, a fully-equipped gymnasium and several indoor games.

Promoted in 2004, it offers its 80 students (in classes V-X) a choice between the curriculums of the Delhi-based CISCE and CIE, UK. "We have just introduced the IB diploma and offer a teacher-student ratio of 1:10. Our large campus, enviable sports facilities and superior student residences are a big attraction to parents living in Mumbai which is a mere two hours away by road. We are also flooded with enquiries from NRI parents in Singapore and Japan who want their children to study here," says Mrs. Homai Wadia, principal of the fully residential JANIRS, in which annual tuition-cum-boarding fees are Rs.250,000 per year.

Likewise, in a city of day schools the recently promoted Singapore International School (SIS) in the distant suburb of Dahisar also offers residential accommodation. Perhaps Mumbai’s newest international school, SIS admitted its first batch of 140 students in August this year and is the first school in India to comply with the stringent standards of the Singapore Education Board. Spread over ten verdant acres, the school offers IGCSE and IB curriculums; an international faculty drawn from Australia, UK, Europe, USA, besides India; a multi-sports complex; multi-media library; amphitheatre and club house. The tuition fee (excluding boarding charges) is a cool Rs.4 lakh per year.

Similarly, the Oberoi International School (OIS) which will admit its first batch of students in June 2008, promises a spacious vertical campus with advanced facilities and plenty of playing spaces. With a built-up area of 450,000 sq. ft in the 80-acre Oberoi Garden City, Goregaon, the school promoted by Oberoi Group of Industries has been designed by celebrity Singapore-based architect Pit Li.

"We have taken great pains to ensure the campus is student-friendly with lots of playing spaces for children. The lobby on each floor is huge and makes an ideal place for students and teachers to mingle. The topmost floor will have an athletic track and cricket ground. OIS is all set to become Mumbai’s most well-designed school and will offer both the CIE and IB curriculums," says V. Nandakumar, principal and CEO of Oberoi International School. Nandakumar’s teaching career spans two decades and includes stints as principal of TVS schools in Madurai, Dhirubhai Ambani International School and the Global International School, Singapore. With OIS ready to roll next year, the Oberoi Group has drawn up ambitious plans for another eponymous school in the suburb of Jogeshwari.

Coterminously with the boom in international schools, India’s commercial capital, which is receptive to new ideas including education philosophies, is also witnessing the promotion of alternative schools which abhor conventional school education practices — crowded classrooms, uniforms, competitive exams, and authoritarian, omniscient teachers. Started by four parents disillusioned with conventional schools, the Tridha School (estb. 2001) subscribes to the alternative education philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner, the late 19th century Austrian philosopher and educator. Steiner schools aka Waldorf schools, focus on educating and developing the whole child, not just her intellect. In consonance with the Waldorf system, Tridha provides its students a stress-free environment striving for a balance between academics, arts and crafts, music, dance and environment awareness. Tridha is one of three Waldorf schools in India (the other two are in Hyderabad) with an enrollment of 233 students who pay annual tuition fees ranging from Rs.29,000-33,000.

"In Tridha we don’t accord excessive importance to textbook learning and examination success. We believe children learn best in stress-free and caring environments. Our teachers are trained in the Waldorf pedagogy, a well-established alternative education philosophy adopted by over 2,000 Waldorf schools worldwide. Currently we are a kindergarten-class VIII school, but we add a class each year and have applied for CISCE affiliation. The unique feature at Tridha is that the same teacher teaches her students from class I to VII. Moreover parents interested in enrolling their children in Tridha have to attend an orientation programme to be in sync with the larger aims and objectives of Steiner schools," says Seshadri Desikan, an IIT qualified engineer and co-founder of Tridha, which will soon move to new premises built as per Steiner specifications in Andheri East.

Although Mumbai’s educracy is relatively liberal compared to other states of the country, real estate prices in the island city are a great disincentive to school promoters. Yet if a rash of capital-intensive new genre primaries and secondaries are nevertheless sprouting in the country’s commercial capital, the most important factor driving the boom is insistent parental demand. Disillusioned with the education dispensed by mainstream schools affiliated with the pan-India CBSE and CISCE exam boards, new age parents are increasingly seeking alternatives which will prepare their children to compete on equal terms in the emerging global economy.

Moreover with the higher education system in a shambles except in a handful of institutions (such as IITs and IIMs) where the rush for admission is fiercely competitive, international certification smooths the passage into foreign universities. With each passing year the exodus of Indian students heading West for higher education is rising. For them the IB diploma and ‘A’ level certificate is a readily acceptable passport into the best colleges and universities abroad.

"The tide of Indian students aspiring to study abroad, particularly in the US, is becoming a flood. For school leavers IB or ‘A’ level certification which is accepted by universities worldwide, is a great asset. By providing international certification in India at one third of what it would cost abroad, international schools are rendering a very valuable service to thousands of Indian students who want to study abroad. Even the blue-chip Cathedral & John Connon has realised the many advantages of an international curriculum and is planning to open an IB wing in Lonavla," says Madhavi Desai, a well-known Mumbai-based education consultant whose firm Madhavi Desai Consulting Pvt. Ltd (estb. 1989) renders aid and advice to over 2,000 study abroad aspirants annually. An alumna of Purdue University, Desai has also helped set up counselling departments in several IB schools countrywide.

Rules & regulations for promoting private schools in Mumbai

During the past four years India’s commercial and entertainment capital has witnessed the promotion of a rash of ‘international’ schools. On average in the city of fast-track private enterprise, ten new age schools are promoted every year, the city’s dizzy real estate prices and land scarcity notwithstanding. According to the directorate of education, Mumbai, over 90 proposals for inaugurating new schools have been submitted in the past two years (2005-07) and are pending clearance.

"There’s a big rush to promote private schools in Mumbai and the Maharashtra state government is encouraging this development. We are finalising a master plan for education which will encourage promotion of private schools taking into account the proposed location and the need for schools in each area," says Sheila Tiwari, deputy director of education, Mumbai region.

Promoters are granted permission for starting schools on the fulfillment of 26 criteria. Among them:

• Payment of Rs.2 lakh as deposit and a fee of Rs.20,000 to be paid annually

• In the opinion of the education department there is requirement for a school in the proposed location

• The promoters guarantee that the profit generated will be used only for educational purposes

• The school staffing pattern and teachers is approved by the government. Faculty possesses minimum qualifications

• Five percent of the total expenditure will be spent on providing infrastructure facilities

• Official permission to add classes is required. For instance, if the school is up to class VII, and it wants to start classes VIII-X, permission from the education department is mandatory

• Every school must have a Parent Teacher Association and the association’s audit report has to be submitted to the government

• The Maharashtra Employees of Private Schools Act, 1981 is applicable

• Minimum salaries have to be paid to teachers according to government rules

• Schools should have a proper building

• The Right to Information Act 2005 is applicable

• The admission process should be transparent

• If a school is paying rent, the quantum should be certified by an executive engineer

• As and when required by the state government, information regarding admission procedures should be submitted

• If the school is a minority institution, it should be registered as such with the state government

hile Mumbai’s international schools are perceived as rendering valuable service by offering students much sought after international certifications, all’s not well with them. Most admit to being confronted with severe shortages of high-quality teachers, a pre-requisite of delivering the globally-reputed syllabuses and curriculums of the CIE, UK and IBO, Geneva. Given their academic rigour and broad-based life skills content, these international curriculums mandate stringent in-service teacher training and continuous skills upgradation programmes. Therefore recruiting, motivating and retaining best teachers has become a top priority of Mumbai’s five-star school managements. And it’s hardly a secret that most of them have signed up recruitment firms and headhunters to poach, purloin and entice the best teachers from schools across the country with unprecedented pay packages, including housing and other perks.

"There’s a drought of quality teachers globally and a severe shortage of new blood in the teaching profession. Therefore international schools are experiencing considerable difficulty in recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. Indian teachers trained in India’s new international schools are now being offered jobs abroad and tend to jump ship as soon as opportunity knocks. Therefore the attrition rate in five-star schools is very high. The only option for them is to hire expat teachers, but the government is creating hurdles to importing them. This is to India’s disadvantage," says Capt. Raj Mohindra.

Inevitably, the prime target of international schools and their head hunting firms are under-paid teachers in the country’s 8,097 CBSE and 1,502 CISCE affiliated schools. Given that even in the most high-end English medium schools in Mumbai, annual remuneration packages average a modest Rs.100,000-150,000, teachers from these schools are flocking to international schools where twice this pay is common. "Mumbai’s new international schools are luring the best teachers from the top private schools with fancy salaries. Since the pool of quality teachers is small, mid-priced schools have been badly hit. Therefore fresh blood into the teaching profession is urgently needed. Moreover I believe Mumbai doesn’t need elite international schools catering only to the creme-de-la-crème, but quality mid-priced schools. Most of the city’s five-star schools haven’t delivered what they promised," says Shirin Darashah, an eminent educationist who was principal of Mumbai’s J.B. Petit School for 34 years.

Darashah’s charge that not all international schools in Mumbai have delivered their promise has some substance. Recently the city’s newspapers went to town about Pranjali World School, a professedly international school occupying three cramped floors atop a row of shops on a busy Mumbai street (Kemp’s Corner). Licensed to offer the IB diploma, Pranjali had made claims to parents that its primary and middle years programmes are also authorised by IBO. Despite non-existent academic and sports facilities, tuition fees average Rs.3.5 lakh per year.

To discourage faux international schools from cashing in on their reputations, CIE and IBO have tightened their accreditation procedures. Moreover, the most genuine international schools countrywide have banded together under the banner of The Association of International Schools of India (TAISI) to safeguard and represent their collective interests. With 70 international schools as members, TAISI discharges a watchdog role of raising school education standards by disseminating new pedagogies and international best practices among its member schools.

Meanwhile with three high profile international schools — Sunanda Birla International School, Oberoi International School and the New Era (Cambridge) — all set to admit their first batches next year, Mumbai is fast building a school education ecology commensurate with its reputation as India’s commercial capital .